October 9, 2019

When a good product isn't good enough

TL;DR
Founders get lost in product development. Distribution channels are equally important and can be created by building an online audience, being active in online communities, having an offline presence, developing your public speaking, and writing skills.
Happy Hacking :)

When I started working on my idea, I stressed about the product, it felt like the most prominent challenge. After all, I am an engineer, and it's what most of us enjoy and one of the core reasons why we solve problems through developing products. I did what most founders do; narrowed down on that I wanted to work on, spoke to initial potential users, and worked on the MVP. I was finally doing it, you know, being a methodical founder. I had all the frameworks mapped out with the whole lean process in mind. Months passed; it was fun, hard, and fulfilling to see my idea come to life. I tried to get as much feedback from my initial users as I could. My product is a community platform, It is tough to judge product-market fit earlier on. Nonetheless, I took the feedback I could get and continued on.

Months passed, working on the product in every waking free hour I had. It was finally ready for mass signups. It happened in an instance, when I was finally ready to scale up the userbase, it hit me. I did not have a distribution plan. Don't get me wrong, I had selected channels I had identified as the pool where my users sunbathed. However, there was no real map for how this process of acquiring users would look like.
Wait, I thought the product was the real hard part, actually, now I believe otherwise. I once read that first-time founders focus on product, second-time founders concentrate on distribution and scale. I'm no second-time founder yet, but I damn well lean towards the truth in that statement.

So like most founders, I did what I could... google... I quickly realized that some key pieces were missing.

I'll outline a few that I agree with.
Lack of existing audience
I was always shocked by successful founders that just roll on from one product success to the next with relative ease. The secret sauce I found is having an existing audience base changes and makes the difference. Why? Assume you're a coffee fanatic. You routinely blog about coffee, post video reviews on your lifestyle youtube channel, and you regularly post hard to find images of behind the scenes of coffee production. Your audience of a few thousand people consumes your content weekly. Eventually, you decide to launch "pod"; a coffee journal that guides you through the world of coffee tasting. With your distribution channels already set up, your focus will now be on scaling those channels. My lack of an existing audience was severely limiting, and not having enough digital footprint is something to work on. Don't feel like you're an expert in anything? It doesn't matter, communicate what you love, and are passionate about, and it won't be a chore. Not sure what to work on? Build an audience in the meantime. It will come in handy once you decide to launch a product. Some call it a personal brand; whatever you call it, just communicate what you know to others and add value.

Being an active member of online communities

TL:DR Stop lurking and contribute.

I found this absolutely nuts when @csallen mentioned in an episode that 95% or so of people that visit community forums never contribute. Guilty, I was an Indielurker before. The problem here is that communities have the massive advantage of having people who are in all areas of the world meet in one space. If the community is centered around a specific idea, the members will most likely be passionate about it. Here's where it gets interesting; people still talk offline. Surprise, I know. Anyway, if you've built up enough trust and equity in these niche communities and decide to launch a product, you will have a slingshot effect from the active members, including the lurkers. Dive in by setting dedicated time for contributing and engaging.

Offline presence
As engineers, the thought of going out in and networking or meeting new people comes in about dead last or near the bottom. Three reasons why you should; warm introductions, a real-life support network, and high-trust offline relationships. I am lucky with this one; I love networking and meeting people. My schedule is filled with large blocks of work time with breaks of short coffee dates spread out. I host networking events and attend different events where I meet new people. Wait, an engineer that enjoys networking. Must be a unicorn :) There are some hidden advantages of doing this:
You get to run your product ideas through conversation and sharpen your elevator pitches
Well, it's a break from the dark screen of your IDE
In the event your startup tanks well, you'll always have people to hang out with and do regular fun activities
You're exposed to a lot of real-life conversations and is a great place to find out what the people around you are struggling with. Product ideas, anyone?

Public speaking
Oh no, not this one. It's bad enough we have to go out for air, now public speaking. Eventually, you'll have to be heard from as a founder, whether your raising money, a guest on a podcast, talking to users, having this skill will not be wasted. To prepare for all this, simply start now. A few ways to get started:
Join a speaker club, like toastmasters
Start a podcast around one of your hobbies
Join a community organization and take on some communication duties
join meetups and volunteer to be a speaker

Building the habit of writing

Someone told me not so long ago that copywriting is a superpower. I dismissed this statement; writing code was the superpower. I'll take a black eye for this on IH, but I've come to slowly understand that I might be wrong. Looking at this through the lens of an IH, there are a few mediums with which we communicate online; written words, audio, and video. Now, if you're an IH like me, you might not have the time and budget for high-quality video and audio productions. However, writing is free and has a high impact ratio. Not only will you be able to grow an audience, but your communication skills will drastically improve as you'll become a better storyteller. We all still read you're doing it now. Good engaging content that can be created from using just words is a superpower, and it's free to learn and do. Just write more and communicate your experiences, thoughts, and ideas. Check out @anthilemoon for writing tips.

So here we are, equipped with a beautiful shiny product (https://gritly.co) and a developing distribution channel, the future is looking bright.

Parting words
If you are at the start of your journey, consider some of these points as you develop your product. I don't think you need ultimate mastery of everything. If you are starting off as an IH without large sums of money to hire employees to do all these activities, it's worth some attention.

I would appreciate feedback on my writing and possibly a suggestion or two of what you would like me to share my experiences on.

Check out my community https://gritly.co
I'll appreciate all the feedback

Yours in Hacking.

  1. 1

    So many great points mate 馃敟

    There's a myriad of ways to monetise an audience, but a product without users holds little value.